The Long-Term Impact of Out-Of-School STEM Learning Opportunities on Children and You

Friday, 14 February 2014
Columbus CD (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
Robert H. Tai , University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA
As formal schooling sharpens its focus on high stakes testing and the metrics of student mastery of content, the role of informal education with its focus on STEM learning through discovering, making, and creating becomes more central to the educational experiences of children.  There is much anecdotal information about the long-term impact of out-of-school time experiences. Stories told by scientists, teachers, and others about experiences both good and bad. But the empirical evidence is thin, owning to the difficulty of the task.  However, some evidence does exist that offer some clear indications of the connection between positive experiences in youth and long-range impacts. Retrospective data in a survey of physical scientists has shown that 70% developed an interest in science in grade school with about 60% choosing their eventual field of study by high school. Many out-of-school time STEM experiences focus on hand-on activities where students discover, make, and create. More recent studies have shown that students with preferences for learning experiences involving discovering, making, and creating have a significantly greater likelihood of expressing interest in science and engineering-related careers, especially in the critical years of middle school. Coupled with existing research linking early career plans with 2-3 times greater likelihood of actually earning degrees in science and engineering, the research offers some indication of the pathway to STEM beginning early.